Maori Council water appeal dismissed

The Supreme Court has dismissed the appeal by the New Zealand Maori Council to block the Mighty River Power partial privatisation.

The full court of five Supreme Court judges was unanimous in its findings and the decision lets the government proceed with the sale of up to 49 per cent of Mighty River Power.

In their decision, Justice Dame Sian Elias, John McGrath, Susan Glazebrook, William Young and Robert Chambers said they had concluded "that the partial privatisation of Mighty River Power will not impair to a material extent the Crown's ability to remedy any Treaty breach in respect of Maori interests" in respect of the Waikato River.

"For that reason, we decide that the appeal must be dismissed."

The decision gives the Government the green light to proceed with its flagship "mixed ownership model" policy under which it hopes to raise $5 to $7 billion by selling up to 49 per cent of Mighty River, Meridian Energy, Air NZ and possibly Solid Energy.

It plans to sell shares in Mighty River in the second quarter of this year.

The Maori Council bypassed the Court of Appeal and took its case directly to the Supreme Court after losing in the High Court in December last year.

It argued that the sale of Mighty River Power and other power companies before issues around what ownership rights Maori may have over freshwater and geothermal resources was a breach of the Treaty of Waitangi.

Lawyers for the Crown had hoped the decision would be delivered last Monday to allow the sale of up to 49 per cent of Mighty River to go ahead according to the Government's "preferred timetable''.

However the court which heard the case over two days on January 31 and February 1 informed the Maori Council and Crown lawyers it could not meet that timeframe.

The delay in delivering the decision has fuelled speculation the five judges hearing the case had differing views.

Bill English, in a speech delivered this afternoon, reiterated his commitment to the programme of power company floats.

The float would be a "shot in the arm" for capital markets and was expected to remain 80-90 per cent owned by New Zealanders, English said in a lunchtime speech to the Auckland Chamber of Commerce today.

"New Zealanders will be at the front of the queue for shares," he said. "Including the Government's majority stakes, ministers expect 85 per cent to 90 per cent of the shares across the programme to be held by New Zealanders, after the IPOs."

English said New Zealand needed to become a magnet for investment. Although he conceded there was no "silver bullet" to make that happen the Government had to be doing "hundreds of small things well" to get the business environment right.

Yesterday, English said information from the Mighty River Power float could lead to a revision of the overall estimates of proceeds from the Government's SOE sales programme.

"It's possible the numbers will move around."

A $5-$7 billion figure was the estimate given in the May 2011 Budget for the sale proceeds of up to 49 per cent of four state-owned enterprises (Mighty River Power, Genesis, Meridian, Solid Energy) and Air New Zealand.

- Adam Bennett of the New Zealand Herald

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